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The Strays

The Strays

Feb. 17, 2023United Kingdom100 Min.TV-MA
Your rating: 10
10 1 vote


2023 A Black woman’s meticulously crafted life of privilege starts to unravel when two strangers show up in her quaint suburban town. The Strays The Strays

A suburban horror that offers a salacious peek into the secretive lives of the almost-wealthy, a social thriller that exploits their fears, and eventually, a home invasion movie that outstays its own welcome, The Strays is the kind of film that will either flatter Jordan Peele or compel him to mount a lawsuit.

Out now on Netflix, The Strays follows in the footsteps of both Get Out and Us, as it unpacks the deep-rooted, racially driven rot of contemporary society, and attempts to present its findings through a decidedly uncomfortable lens. Ashley Madekwe plays Neve, a woman who — and this is something we’re made privy to in the film’s tense opening moments — escaped an abusive life in a UK council estate, and some years later, rebranded herself as an upper-middle class elite.


Neve is Black, but she can pass for white, a cruel twist of genetics that maybe gave her the confidence to alter her entire identity. Presumably presented with several options — she could have chosen to become anybody, really — she decided to transform herself into a sort of person that society had conditioned her into believing is superior. Neve, when we meet her next, is a successful professional who goes to classy garden parties, and lives blissfully with her husband and two children in a fancy part of town. “You’re practically one of us,” her snooty friend tells her over lunch one afternoon, instantly reminding her, and us, of where she came from.


Not that anybody around her, including her new family, knows anything about her past. Racism is so deeply ingrained in Neve that she covers up her natural curls with a wig of straight hair that she wears at all times. She refuses to take it off even at home, as if her Blackness is a crime waiting to be discovered. Her mannerisms are refined to the point of pantomime, and her accent has lost all trace of the past. Neve’s new identity isn’t so much a manifestation of her aspirations as an elaborately crafted disguise.


But things begin to spiral out of control when two strangers begin showing up at random times in Neve’s life, and begin to methodically pull at the seams of her perfectly crafted fake existence. Literally haunted by the past, Neve’s paranoia goes unaddressed, until one pivotal moment in which she basically turns into a desi parent and smacks her son with a shoe for staying out late. If this was a Bollywood movie, it would take at least one more scene for her family to realise that something is wrong. But trauma takes different forms for us all; what is considered normal in one culture might be abhorred in another.

Neve’s husband recoils in shock at the sight of her pummelling their son, which is when he begins to recognise that something is seriously wrong with her. It is suggested, strongly, that Neve has never really been able to connect with her children, seeing in their mixed-race appearances hints of the past that she has worked so hard to bury. Her children, like most people that belong to the more progressive younger generation, are interested in exploring their roots. “We’re Black,” her son says at the dinner table, and Neve reacts as if she’s been slapped across the face.

Debutant director Nathaniel Martello-White displays a strong grasp over tone, as he ratchets up the tension with a minimalist approach. The Strays won’t be for fans of the more in-your-face sort of horror cinema popularised in recent years by James Wan’s successful movies. Martello-White separates his narrative into three Rashomon-style chapters; the first is presented from Neve’s point of view, the second from the perspective of her two stalkers, and the third through the lens of her buried former identity. Try as hard as she might, the truth, the movie suggests, will always bubble up to the surface.

Despite the skill on display in The Strays, there is, however, a strong perspective problem here. More than once, you wonder why Neve is the protagonist of the story and not the two strangers. In fact, presenting them — the only two overtly Black characters in sight — as the violent ‘villains’, especially when the movie itself wants us to believe that they’re the ones who’ve been wronged, is dicey optics at best, and self-defeating at worst. The Strays often wanders into some potentially dramatic territory, but leaves before sniffing under every rock.



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